Review: Callum Francis puts a new spin on a Broadway staple in the Manchester Opera House production of Kinky Boots

  • With Music and Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper, Kinky Boots tells the story of Charlie Price and Lola.

Based on the 2005 film, Kinky Boots has cemented itself as a musical theatre standard ever since it opened in Chicago in 2012.
With music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper (yes, that Cyndi Lauper), you know you’re in safe hands when it comes to songwriting. But, Lauper has managed to combine her signature bombastic rock style with more heartfelt and sincere tones, which give Kinky Boots a more well rounded and full feel which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. 

One moment you could be pounding your fist at a thumping rock number and the next welling up as a character sings a ballad about their upbringing and their life.
Kinky Boots tells the story of Charlie Price, a fourth generation shoe-maker in Northampton. However, Charlie has no desire to follow his father into the family business and moves to London with his fiancee. Not long after arriving, (minor spoiler) Charlie’s dad dies and so he reluctantly takes over the family business, which he discovers is near bankruptcy.

Through a chance meeting with Lola (a local drag queen), he decides to make high-quality boots for drag queens. 

Admittedly, the story does sound quite strange when you just read it in black and white, but the writing is so high quality that it never enters your mind. There’s a reason it’s won every Best Musical Award possible.

Being the umpteenth person to play a character, especially one as well known and beloved as Lola in Kinky Boots, is always a monumental challenge; no matter how you decide to play the part, you are almost guaranteed that someone has done it the same way before you.
As is often the case, Lola, played by the excellent Callum Francis, stole the show, as every Lola tends to do. I could talk about the gorgeous set design; and gorgeous it was; or the magnificent supporting cast (one of which may have been there to help sell tickets, but that’s by the by), but, truth be told, every scene was made better by the inclusion of Lola, and the scenes which she wasn’t in left you waiting until her arrival again.

Having already seen Kinky Boots on the West End a long time before seeing this performance, it’s only natural that I would make comparisons between that performance and this one. And, honestly, this was probably better. There were no areas which I was left wishing for the West End cast, and there were even a couple of moments which I felt were handled much better than on my first viewing. 

One of these moments in particular was the rendition of ‘Not My Father’s Son’, which the touring cast chose to do very differently to their London counterparts. While the West End cast chose to make it a passionate and emotional anthem, this cast chose to go in the opposite direction, making it tender and heartfelt.

If there was one nitpick I could make, and it is only a minor one which isn’t the fault of anyone involved, it’s that, as the show is a touring production, no children are able to be part of the cast, which means no young Charlie or Lola, which also meant that the rendition of “The Most Beautiful Thing” didn’t pull at the heartstrings as much as it could.

Photo by Matt Crockett